Heavy metal music is known for its predilection for shouty vocals, growly guitar riffs and lyrics about darkness and Lucifer. What the genre of music is not known for, is trying to get its audience to reflect on global terrorism. Yet that is exactly what Night Wings III, a Jaipur-based heavy metal band is attempting to do, with their new song, Where Are My 72 Virgins.
Released on May 21, which India marks as anti-terrorism day to commemorate the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the song describes a dialogue between a man described as a preacher and a gunman who the preacher has convinced to pick up arms. While the preacher promises his follower, the song’s titular “72 virgins” in the afterlife, the armed man begins to experience doubts – unfortunately, the realisation comes a little too late.
The idea for the song was inspired by a series of events, according to Jatin, the band’s guitarist. Seven or eight years ago, he was biking in the mountains of North India and chanced upon the speeches of Islamic preacher Zakir Naik. “People like him are confusing people,” Jatin said. “He never answers questions correctly, he only confuses people. I don’t know how they let him appear on television.”
In the days leading up to the song’s release, the band asked followers on their Facebook page, what they believed to be the root cause of terrorism in the world. This was followed by a video compilation, purported to be the statements of various men caught during terror attacks, similar to videos known to appear on propaganda sites on the Internet. Another had Jatin, the band’s guitarist holding up placards listing terrorist attacks over the last few years. The comments under both videos are quickly laudatory and supportive.
“Earlier I thought that illiteracy was the reason,” Jatin said, attempting to explain what he believed was the root cause of terrorism. “But I know that is only a part of the problem. I read that one of the terrorists in a recent attack was a fan of Shraddha Kapoor and was educated. So I realised that the real problem was false preaching. It’s a very annoying problem and we could only tackle it though music, because that is the strongest weapon we had.”
If the band’s intention was to treat the issue of global terror with nuance and sensitivity, it has been lost in translation. The song seeks to lay bare the objectification of women in Islam, a criticism also levelled at heavy metal imagery and lyrics, but ends up repeating the same mistakes: in the video, the camera leers at a scantily-clad actress emerging from a pool of water surrounded by steam – apparently the song’s titular virgin.
At one level, Night Wing III’s take on the subject could very well be metal’s answer to cringe-pop. The stodgy seriousness of the lyrics, and the over-the-top cheesy visuals of the music video, could be enjoyed for their so-bad-it’s-good quality. On another level, even if the song is well-intentioned, its lack of nuance is annoying, and in parts, a little offensive.
Lovenish Sharma, the band’s vocalist, denied that the song could be construed as offensive or considered anti-Islamic. “When we wrote this song, our motive was global,” he said. “I didn’t think about India, Hindu believers or minorities before I wrote the song or made the video.” Jatin added: “In no way are we discriminating against Islam. All we are saying is the aspect of 72 virgins is not there in the Quran.”
Perhaps, what becomes immediately apparent is the difficulty of addressing the complexities of terrorism within the confines of a three-minute pop song. But the band members were propelled by the desire to write a song with a message. A song that, in Jatin’s words, “would be successful if it managed to convince even 10 people to give up their arms.” Based on the evidence of the music video and the lyrical content, don’t count on it.